Orlando, Florida – Disney World

Disney World

NIKON D70S, Nikon 18-200 VR

It’s summer time and the kids are on vacation.  Time to hit your local Disney!  We lived in Orlando for 2+ years…so we visited Disney World many times!   Who would not want to visit Magic Kingdom with such highlights as Its a Small World, Space Mountain,  Cinderella’s Castle (the iconic gateway to the theme park), Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents and much more!!!  I can remember the days when I was young and my favorite ride was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea….it’s gone now. 

We have visited Dinsey at all times of the year.  If you go during the summer – you must deal with the crowds and heat.  We found if you go in November its quiet and cooler – but tough to do as the kids are in school.  We even went on Christmas Eve to watch the special Christmas fireworks show over Cinderella’s castle.   Along Main Street just before the show – Disney made it snow (fake snow) – but it was a great touch!  They think of everything! 

Disney has lots of hotels and special deals to experience.  I’ll note some in future posts.  One of our favorites was Chef Mickey’s - there you have a breakfast buffet at the Disney Contemporary Resort with many of the Disney Characters!  Fun!  If you have a little one – it’s a must!   I remember we took our daughter there for her first birthday…she was walking around checking out the scene and Goofy was following her a few feet behind for a few minutes and she had no idea!  I got it on video – just too cute!   Have a Magical day!

Munich, Germany – Neues Rathaus – HDR

Rathaus HDR 2

NIKON D300, Nikon 12-24, HDR in Photomatix

Here is Part 2 to the Neues Rathaus in Munich, Germany.  This is a full shot of the town hall…using the 12-24 I could easily get it all in.  Wide angle lenses sure are wonderful!  I post processed this one last nite.  It has become a fast favorite and is my screensaver right now.  The blue hour is a special time for HDR.  After seeing this shot…definately tops for HDR time of the day!   I am happy to see all the  hits to the HDR tutorial I posted.  Hope it has helped or peaked your interest in HDR’s!   Please feel free to ask me any questions if you ever need any help!   Hopefuly I can be of assistance.  Enjoy!

San Antonio, TX – The Alamo (Infrared)

The Alamo IR

NIKON D70S (Modified IR by LifePixel), Nikon 18-70

Living in Austin, San Antonio is only a one and a half hour drive south.  We travel down 1-2 times year.  We decided to brave the 107 degree temperature and headed for the Alamo!  Amazingly it was busy in San Antonio and parking was tough.  The first thing we do when we arrive is go see the Alamo.  It is a small little building with big history! 

Here is a little info from the web… Originally named Misión San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly seventy years. Construction began on the present site in 1724. In 1793, Spanish officials secularized San Antonio’s five missions and distributed their lands to the remaining Indian residents. These men and women continued to farm the fields, once the mission’s but now their own, and participated in the growing community of San Antonio.  San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution. In December 1835, Ben Milam led Texian and Tejano volunteers against Mexican troops quartered in the city. After five days of house-to-house fighting, they forced General Marín Perfecto de Cós and his soldiers to surrender. The victorious volunteers then occupied the Alamo — already fortified prior to the battle by Cós’ men — and strengthened its defenses. 

On February 23, 1836, the arrival of General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army outside San Antonio nearly caught them by surprise. Undaunted, the Texians and Tejanos prepared to defend the Alamo together. The defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army. William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo sent forth couriers carrying pleas for help to communities in Texas. On the eighth day of the siege, a band of 32 volunteers from Gonzales arrived, bringing the number of defenders to nearly two hundred. Legend holds that with the possibility of additional help fading, Colonel Travis drew a line on the ground and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over — all except one did. As the defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender their position to General Santa Anna. Among the Alamo’s garrison were Jim Bowie, renowned knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed frontiersman and former congressman from Tennessee. The final assault came before daybreak on the morning of March 6, 1836, as columns of Mexican soldiers emerged from the predawn darkness and headed for the Alamo’s walls. Cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Regrouping, the Mexicans scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Once inside, they turned a captured cannon on the Long Barrack and church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The desperate struggle continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise, the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo compound to survey the scene of his victory.  While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

This is a very historical place for Texas.  I’m sure glad they didnt have this battle in July!  Whew!  Everyone would have needed a water break!  You can walk through the front door and take a quick tour, then afterwards there is a gift shop to visit.   When we arrived, I stood out front and waited in the super hot sun for about 10 minutes for this shot!   I felt like a cookie baking!  I was hoping for a tourist free photo….then it happened and here it is!  I gave the IR shot and old sepia type filter – to make it look like an old photograph.  San Antonio also has the “Riverwalk” to visit and experience.  I will note this on my next post from here.   Famous words from the past….Remember the Alamo!

Salisbury, England – Stonehenge – HDR

Stonehendge HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

During my stay in London, I had a Friday afternoon free and always wanted to visit Stonehenge.  I had my chance and booked a afternoon direct tour with Premium Tours.   The bus departed Trafalgar Square at 1:15 PM. There are also a few other pick ups along the way.  We hit the road to Salisbury around 1:45 PM.   We arrived 2 hours later at Stonehenge.  While driving up you get a view of the hill where the stones are located.  From the distance you can see people walking around the site.  It gets you excited.  The parking lot is across the street and you cross over under a walking tunnel.  Magically through the tunnel Stonehenge appears!

The driver joked on the way there…there are “the bunch of rocks”.  Kinda funny as it is true…they are just a bunch of rocks.  You travel far just to see them.  To me it was a “been there done that” kind of visit.  I knew it would not be anything special…so I wanted to see them anyway.  As long as you understand the scope of your visit it is ok.  When we arrived we had 1 hour and 10 minutes to see the rocks.  I figured it was enough…but time was tight for me.  You can only get so close to the rocks as they are surrounded by a small fence that only allows you to walk in designated areas.  Its was fine to me.  The closest you get is about 15-20 yards away from one section.

I walked around a had my tripod set up and got just about every angle of the rocks.  Halfway around…I lowered my tripod almost to the ground and liked that view for the persepctive.  That is this shot shown above.  I had to lay on the grass to get these shots.   I was also taking IR shots along the way also…not so great as you can see the cloud cover was heavy.  I may post one a day in the future.   But they need lots of post processing help - I will look at later.   I mainly took HDR shots.  I figured with the clouds and the texture of the rocks…that would be perfect for an HDR.  The shots came out pretty cool.  I liked this one as the clouds look like they are opening up above the site.

I just realized I should have posted this shot on June 21st…Summer Solstice…so I’m just a few days late!   Time went fast and I had to head back to the bus.   I did enjoy the visit…although it was Friday and the drive back took about 3 hours to London!  Whew!  I was glad I visited.   Now is Easter Island next?  LOL  I’ll post another close up shot in a few weeks and post some historical details on Stonehenge.  On the drive out…I didnt get to see any crop cirlces….although in the paper the day before a new one was found.  The truth is out there!

London, England – St. Paul’s Cathedral – HDR

London - St Pauls HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

Here is an HDR from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England.   I was eager to visit St. Paul’s due to its beautiful architecture.   I had also wanted to go inside to take an HDR of the interior…but didn’t have time.   This shot was taken across the street  and showcases the amazing dome of the church.   This evening I took a long walk.  I started at St. Paul’s, then walked over the Millineum Bridge, walked riverside to the Tower Bridge, then to the Tower of London!   Whew!  Took me about 2 1/2 hours (of course I was taking pics along the way).   I always enjoy seeing the sights via walking…not only good excercise, but you get a feel for the surroundings and it makes it a little more memorable.  

Here is some info on St. Paul’s from the web…A Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul has stood on this site since 604 AD, and throughout the Cathedral has remained a busy, working church where millions come to reflect and find peace.   St Paul’s is not only an iconic part of the London skyline but also a symbol of the hope, resilience and strength of the city and nation it serves.  The current Cathedral – the fourth to occupy this site – was desinged by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and was built between 1675 and 1720 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Its architectural and artistic importance reflect the determination of the five monarchs who oversaw its building that London’s leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces

I set up this shot with my ususal 5 exposure using a tripod and cable release.  I had to wait often as double decker busses kept driving by!   After I post processed in Photomatix, I thought a little filter from Color Efex Pro 3.0 would give the picture a little feeling.  It gave it a nice tone and added a little flair to the sky.   Hope you enjoy!  Cheers!

Austin, Texas – Bats of Austin

Austin Bats 1

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

We have lived in Austin for over 2 years and my wife has always wanted to take the bat boat bat cruise here in Austin.  With family in town – it was aperfect time!  We took the Capital Cruise Tour.  It departed the dock around 7:45 PM.  Sunset in Austin was 8:27 PM last nite.  Cost is about $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for kids.

Here is a little info on the bats from the web -  The Congress Avenue Bridge spans Town Lake in downtown Austin and is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America.  The colony is estimated at 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats.   Each night from mid-March to November, the bats emerge from under the bridge at dusk to blanket the sky as they head out to forage for food.  This event has become one of the most spectacular and unusual tourist attractions in Texas.  The most spectacular bat flights are during hot, dry August nights, when multiple columns of bats emerge.  There are several points from which to view the event.

Austin Bats 2

I thought 2 pictures from this cruise will give you a feel for the bats.  As the boat took off the driver was very informative and noted many items about Austin I did not know.   One of interest was that in the past Texas was its own country and through the years has had 6 different national flags per ownership  (Mexico, France, Spain, Texas Republic, Confederate, and US).  This is where the theme park  “6 Flags” gets it name!

There are some beautiful views of the city from on the lake.   As the sunset, we were about 30 yards from the Congress Bridge where the bats live.  Then like a fire drill – thousands of bats take off into the night.  They leave in bunches and it is an amazing sight to see!    They help out Texas by eating lots of bugs throughout the evening!

Definately a fun experience.  As you can see there are many ways to see the bats – boat cruise, rent a kayak, stand on the bridge, eat at TGIF’s or just stand on the side of the river.   Just remember that its HOT in Texas during the summer – so don’t forget some water – we did – whew!  It was about 100 degrees last nite at sunset!  If you are in Austin and have a chance to see the bats – I’d say do it!  You can’t strike out with the Bats!!

UPDATE:  The top photo will be published in the October 2009 issue of Texas Monthly.

Indian Wells, CA – Roger Federer

Roger Federer - Indian Wells, CA

NIKON D300, Nikon 70-200 VR, TC-14EII Teleconverter

In honor of the most famous tennis tournament going on right now – Wimbledon, here is a photo of probably the best tennis player ever Mr. Roger Federer.  This was taken this past March in Indian Wells, CA at the  BNP Paribas Open.   As a big tennis fan, my first thought would be Pete Sampras as the best, but with Roger winning the French Open last month, it moved him up a notch past Pete.  If Rafa Nadal can stay healthy, he may one day surpass Roger. 

This might be one of my best close up tennis shots ever.  I owe this in thanks to the amazing Nikon 70-200 VR lens!  I have talked about this in my previuos tennis posts.  What helped was having the teleconverter.  It added another 100mm focal length to the shot.  Roger was probably 30 feet away from me and this is how close I could get!  Unreal!   I noted that I rented this lens for the week from LensRentals.com  If you are looking to buy a new lens and want to try it out?  Use LensRentals!  A great service and very affordable.  I have been saving for the 70-200 VR – hope to have it later this year!   Hope your day is an Ace!

Brussels, Belgium – Harley-Davidson – HDR

Brussels Harley HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

Here is a cool shot from Brussels.  When I walked down to the Grand Place during the day that Saturday from my hotel (20 minute walk).  I passed this Harely parked next to a restaurant.  Perfectly positioned with the buildings in the background.   They are the Palace of Congress.  I had always wanted to take a Harley shot as an HDR.  Any chrome and shiny parts would reflect nicely!  I had my chance and kneeled down and waited for people to pass by.  I took this hand held with 5 exposures and post processed in Photomatix. 

Cars and bikes always look great in the HDR format.  After seeing this shot…I’d like to try more!   After I took it and looked at it on my camrera screen I noticed the lamp post in the rear view mirror.  Not planned and a nice added effect!   As they say on the Harley website….Let Freedom Rumble! !

Frottmaning, Germany – Train Station – HDR

Frottmaning Station HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 12-24, HDR in Photomatix

Here is the train station (bahnhof) for Frottmaning, Germany.  When you visit Allianz Stadium (per my last post)…this is your stop.  When I arrived…I stopped and looked around and thought…great place for an HDR.  Most stations near Munich are not so exciting.  This one had some flair!   Frottmaning is about 20 minutes from Marienplatz on the S-Bahn – U6 Train.  This past trip was the first time I really had a chance to explore Munich.  Such a great city!  I’d say my favorite in Germany. 

I took my photos of Allianz Arena and made the 10 minute walk back to the station.  It was about 10 PM and the station was quiet.  I set up my tripod and took this with 5 exposures and a cable release.   I hear the arena lights up in different colors for certain events…so maybe one day I will be back to Frottmaning!  

If you are visiting Germany…some top places to visit are:  1. Munich  2. Berlin 3. Cologne 4. Nurnberg  5. Frankfurt.  During my stay in Munich I looked into visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle …unfortunately, just a bit too far – about 2 hours one way.  I hear you can catch a bus tour from Munich or take the train to Fussen.  Hopefully one day I will get there.  It was featured in such movies as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Great Escape.  Lots to see in Munich…near and far!  I look forward to visiting again!

Munich, Germany – Allianz Arena – HDR

Allianz Arena HDR

NIKON D300, Nikon 12-24, HDR in Photomatix

Here is an HDR of the Allianz Arena in Munich. The building is very stylish!    This was the same nite I went to the Olympic Park…afterwards I took a train over to take these shots.  It pretty close from Marienplatz…about 20 minutes north.  The sun was setting and it was quiet.  A few other people were there taking photos.  As there were no events going on…you could not get too close.  When it gets dark out…the arena lights up white.  I liked the idea of this not being illuminated and the sun setting in the background.  The HDR’ing creates a bit of a halo over the arena….kind of looks like a giant UFO has landed!  ET phone home!